San Mateo County’s oceanfront offers big views right in the Bay Area’s backyard.
Photo creditPhoto: Cindy Chew
Photo creditPhoto: Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
Photo creditPhoto: Rob Cala
Photo creditPhoto: Sam's Chowder House
Photo creditPhoto: Cindy Chew
Photo creditPhoto: California State Parks
Photo creditPhoto: San Mateo County Parks
Yes, Big Sur is amazing. But the oft overlooked San Mateo County coast offers just as much breathtaking scenery, good eats, and small-town charm—minus the long drive from the Bay Area. Here are seven things not to be missed.
Once a treacherous, cliff-hugging segment of Highway 1 that connected Montara to Pacifica, Devil’s Slide closed to vehicle traffic in 2013 with the debut of a new bypass tunnel—much to the delight of white-knuckled local commuters. Now that section of roadway has reopened as Devil's Slide Trail, an easily accessible, 1.3-mile multi-use path for hikers and bikers that offers spectacular views of Northern California’s rugged Pacific coastline.
Overlooking Half Moon Bay’s Pillar Point Harbor, where working fishing boats still anchor, Sam’s Chowder House is popular among locals and tourists for top-notch seafood classics at relatively affordable prices. The chowder is excellent, and so are the stuffed-to-the-brim lobster rolls.
Giant green anemones, spiny sea urchins, even wary octopuses: The intertidal zone of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach forms a real-life aquarium. Nature lovers who time their visits with low tide can pick their way around the edges of pools, watching (but not touching) the area’s abundant, diverse marine life.
The breathtaking coastline sometimes overshadows this area’s inland pastoral beauty. At Pescadero’s rustic Harley Farms Goat Diary
The artichoke bread at Arcangeli Grocery Co. a general store in Pescadero, Calif. is justifiably famous. The bakery’s oven turns out fresh loaves all day, so you can grab a loaf hot enough to turn a side of artichoke dip gently runny—perfect for noshing while strolling Stage Road, the town’s quaint main drag.
In the entire Bay Area there may be no more astounding wildlife experience than standing 25 feet away from a massive, bellowing elephant seal bull. That’s what awaits visitors who walk the three-mile round-trip trail at Año Nuevo State Park, a breeding, birthing, and molting headquarters that hosts some 4,000 of these massive marine mammals a year. Self-guided and docent-led tours are available depending on the time of year.
The atmosphere gets downright romantic at the Ocean Terrace, which overlooks Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay’s stunning, bluff-lined grounds and serves dishes such as Monterey shrimp ceviche. Some nights a bagpiper contributes to the ambience, and there’s even s’mores and a bar offering hot chocolate on Friday and Saturday evenings.
This article was first published in July 2015 and updated in August 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.